HTC and AT&T have pushed out an OTA update for the One X today, and while it provides the standard bug fixes and security enhancements, it brings a new feature to address the menu button "issue." Previously, if you were running an application that wasn't updated to support the latest Android style guidelines, you'd have a full-width black bar about 48 pixels high that held an on-screen menu button. It was horrible to look at, and we hoped that Android application developers would soon update their apps to get rid of it. We can't knock HTC, they used the correct layout for their capacitive buttons (we do question why they went with capacitive buttons in the first place, though) and did what they were supposed to do. But it was still pretty darn ugly.
Then along comes Samsung, with a menu button on what will probably turn out to be the most popular Android phone ever in the Galaxy S 3. They shouldn't have done it (according to the Android developer team's way of doing things), but they did. A quick look at the HTC One X tells us why -- that big, ugly, black bar.
Of course, application developers don't have to update to make their app look good on the phone that is selling the most, so very few did. Love it or hate it, time saved is money saved, so the folks at Twitter or Facebook (as well as smaller development teams) just let it ride. It became an HTC problem instead of an application problem.
HTC had to fix it themselves. Never mind the fact that they were only following guidelines, their phones look bad running an app that needs a menu button and Samsung's don't. We saw a bit of it in the Desire C, and we're pretty sure we heard Android hacker/developer/guru Paul O'Brien mention that it was coming.
It's here now, at least on the AT&T One X. Filed under Settings > Display, gestures and buttons is an entry where users can choose how they want the multi-tasking button to work. It can work as normal, or have a second function if you long-press. Phil's been playing around with it, and he says the best and most natural way it to have a single tap bring up the menu, and a long-press open the multi-tasking view -- just like Samsung's Galaxy S 3.
We would prefer that developers just use the action bar on their apps as instructed. Hopefully, new apps will be written that way and eventually this whole mess goes away. Until then, at least we have a way to get rid of the black menu bar. We expect to see a similar fix roll out for the rest of the HTC One series of phones, and for hackers to grab some code and do the same in custom ROMs until then. For now, enjoy your 48 pixels of freedom.